Its color is as unique as it is seductive, though in fact this gemstone of all gemstones is said to protect its wearer against seduction. The amethyst is extravagance in violet. For many thousands of years, the most striking representative of the quartz family has been a jewel coveted by princes both ecclesiastical and secular. Moses described it as a symbol of the Spirit of God in the official robes of the High Priest of the Jews, and the Russian Empress Catherine the Great sent thousands of miners into the Urals to look for it. In popular belief, the amethyst offers protection against drunkenness - for the Greek words 'amethystos' mean 'not intoxicated' in translation. A more apt stone for the month of February, particularly if there is to be plenty going on in the way of carnival celebrations, could thus hardly be wished for.
The deposits with the greatest economic significance are in various states in southern Brazil and in neighboring Uruguay. The third major export country is Madagascar. However, this gemstone is spread all over the world. Good specimens were found in Aztec graves, though the deposits from which they were extracted are no longer known today. On the Canadian side of Lake Superior in North America, there is a place named Amethyst Harbor. The violet quartz is found there in ample quantities, though rarely in gemstone quality.
However, the amethyst is more likely to turn up in spaces lining agate almonds and druses in igneous rocks. What was presumed to be the largest-ever cavity was discovered in 1900 in Rio Grande do Sul. The almond measured ten by five by three meters (33 by 16 by 10 ft.) and weighed an estimated eight tonnes. The dark violet amethysts, some as large as a man's fist, may have weighed some 700 cwt. altogether. There is a piece weighing 200 kilograms, taken from this Brazilian treasure, in the Washington Museum. In recent times, a find in the USA has been making headlines. In July 1993, a three-meter druse was found in Maine, which contained well over 1000 kilograms of cuttable amethyst, some of it in crystals 19 cm in length.
February's purple birthstone has been found among the possessions of royalty throughout the ages. The intense violet hue of Amethyst appealed to early monarchs, perhaps because they often wore this color. Purple dye was scarce and expensive at one time, and so it was reserved for the garments of kings and queens. Amethyst has been found in ruins dating as far back as the ninth century, adorning crowns, scepters, jewelry, and breastplates worn into battle. A large Amethyst is among the closely guarded gemstones in the British Crown Jewels.
Amethyst is also symbolic of spirituality and piety. It has been used to ornament churches and crosses used in religious ceremony, and worn in rings and on rosaries by bishops and priests.